Economists increasingly recognise that engagement with social ontology – the study of the basic subject matter and constitution of social reality - can facilitate more relevant analysis. This growing recognition amongst economists of the importance of social ontology is due very considerably to the work of members of the Cambridge Social Ontology Group. This volume brings together important papers by members of this group, some previously unpublished, in a collection that reveals the breadth and vitality of this Cambridge project. It provides a brilliant introduction to the central themes explored, perspectives sustained, insights achieved and how the project is moving forward.
An initial set of papers examine how ontology is understood and justified within this Cambridge project and consider how it compares with prominent historical and contemporary alternatives. The majority of the included papers involve social ontological analysis being put to work directly in underlabouring for specific types of development in economics. The papers are grouped according to their contribution to clarifying and developing (i) various competing traditions and projects of modern economics, (ii) history of thought contributions, (iii) methodological concerns, (iv) ethics and (v) conceptions of particular aspects of social reality, including money, gender, technology and institutions. Background to and a brief history of the Cambridge group is provided in the Introduction.
Social Ontology and Modern Economics will be of interest not only to economists but also philosophers of social science, social theorists and those eager to explore the nature of gender, social institutions and technology.
PART I. The Cambridge approach to social ontology 1. A conception of social ontology 2. Quine and the ontological turn in economics 3. The scope of ontological theorising PART II. Traditions and projects 4. The nature of heterodox economics 5. Economics as progress: The LSE approach to econometric modelling and critical realism as programmes for research 6. An evolutionary economics? On borrowing from evolutionary biology 7. Structure, agency and causality in post-revival Austrian economics: tensions and resolutions PART III. Interventions in the history of economic thought 8. Smith and Newton: Some methodological issues concerning general economic equilibrium theory 9. Metatheory as the key to understanding Schumpeter after Shionoya 10. Order without equilibrium: A critical realist interpretation of Hayek’s notion of spontaneous order PART IV. Methods 11. Methods of abstraction and isolation in modern economics 12. Applied economics, contrast explanation and asymmetric information PART V. Ethics 13. Critical ethical naturalism: an orientation to ethics 14. Realism, universalism and capabilities PART VI. Elaborating conceptions of social reality 15. Ontology and the study of social reality: emergence, organisation, community, power, social relations, corporations, artefacts and money 16. Open and closed systems and the Cambridge school 17. The nature of gender 18. Technological objects, social positions, and the transformational model of social activity 19. Technology and the extension of human capabilities 20. What is an institution?
Social Theory is experiencing something of a revival within economics. Critical analyses of the particular nature of the subject matter of social studies and of the types of method, categories and modes of explanation that can legitimately be endorsed for the scientific study of social objects, are re-emerging. Economists are again addressing such issues as the relationship between agency and structure, between economy and the rest of society, and between the enquirer and the object of enquiry. There is a renewed interest in elaborating basic categories such as causation, competition, culture, discrimination, evolution, money, need, order, organization, power probability, process, rationality, technology, time, truth, uncertainty, value etc.
The objective for this series is to facilitate this revival further. In contemporary economics the label “theory” has been appropriated by a group that confines itself to largely asocial, ahistorical, mathematical “modelling”. Economics as Social Theory thus reclaims the “Theory” label, offering a platform for alternative rigorous, but broader and more critical conceptions of theorizing.